Leaving Damascus, VA

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imageI’m back in Damascus, VA recovering from a minor fall. I hope to hike out in the morning. Staying the night at Crazy Larry’s hostel.

Since I’m in a warm bed tonight, thought of a few things I’d forgotten to post. I’ve changed out so much gear, even clothing. On a lark, I’m now wearing bright red basketball shorts to hike in. They don’t look good on me, but are comfy and have deep pockets without being too short. Love them. Thanks Indiana for finding them for me!

This is the Virginia Creeper bike path. And in the distance is one of 2 mountains I avoided.
This is the Virginia Creeper bike path. And in the distance is one of 2 mountains I avoided.

Ran into Red Hat (hiked AT in 2006 as a new widow) my last evening in Damascus. I’d met her at Hot Springs. I hope to be as vibrant, lively and pretty as this woman is.
Thursday April 24. Damascus, VA 467.8 to Lost Mountain Shelter 483.2 via Virginia Creeper Trail
Adventures in bunk mates. When in town, I typically stay in the bunkhouse of a hiker hostel. It’s the cheapest accommodations outside of setting up your own tent. Remember ‘cheap’ denotes quality. They usually have from 6 to 20 bunk beds and often everyone shares a single bath and shower. Yesterday in the Hikers Inn, a young man came in early in the day and snagged the last bed. When I get into town, my goal, after finding a bed is to grab a shower and do laundry before anything else. Not this young man. It took him hours to get together his laundry. By 5p several of us mentioned to him that the shower was available. When hikers think you smell you NEED a shower. This morning just as everyone was waking up, he decided, unannounced, to take a lengthy hot shower. By the time he was done there was no hot water. And, “Dudes,” he said, ” toilet’s clogged.” What a way to start the morning!

The creek
The creek

This morning, on a lark, I decided to follow the Virginia Creeper trail. I grabbed a map to verify that the AT crosses it twice. It only saves a couple miles of walking, but I’d bypass 2 mountains, each over 1,000ft climb. It’s really a bike path, a former railroad bed, that stratles land between Hiway 58 and Whitetop Laurel Creek. Where I’m from, this would be called a river, though it’s a bit low for canoes or kayaks.

The fish hatchery folks
The fish hatchery folks
This fly fisherman made it look easy. It's not.
This fly fisherman made it look easy. It’s not.

At roughly the 4 mile mark, the AT crosses the Creeper Trail for the first time. There is a rest stop here where I met John. He is a ridge runner for this section, stretching from TN line thru Damascus to Grayson Highlands. He calls himself a glorified trash collector, but his job is to do minor trail and shelter maintenance and help out hikers. He’s originally from Atlanta. John thru hiked the AT in 2006 and now works for the US Forrest Service in this section for 3 months a year. Then he moves onto Baxter State Park in Maine for 3 more months. If he’s lucky, he can find winter work out west or south.
As John left, the Fish hatchery truck arrived. This section of the river is stocked with 2 year old brown and rainbow trout. The fish hatchery man explained how they get the fish eggs, raise them, then skillfully take them to the river, a few at a time in each section. They were escorted by a Fish and Game officer.
I took advantage of the unisex restroom and found a tiny bat, smaller than a mouse, hanging upside down at the underside peak of the porch roof.
Over the day I saw or talked to several trout fishermen. Only one had any luck that day, but he had thrown them all back.
Red Beard and SnorLax passed me and I realized it was time to move along! I soon met a retired couple who I walked with for awhile. He hiked the AT in 1996 and when they retired moved to Damascus.

Taylor's Valley and the Trailside Cafe. This was also the first place I got to smell fresh mowed grass.
Taylor’s Valley and the Trailside Cafe. This was also the first place I got to smell fresh mowed grass.
They apologized because they only had 5 flavors of ice cream.
They apologized because they only had 5 flavors of ice cream.

Near the 5 mile mark we came to the community of Taylors Valley with a Trailside Cafe. I stopped for sweet tea and salted Carmel ice cream. I just had one scoop, but it was huge!

Video on the Virginia Creeper Trail trim.1A106144-E765-4770-91D1-45F641850FCD
I stopped once to cool my feet in the River and rinse off my arms and legs. It was nice to have a flat, level surface to walk on, but it was a bit dusty and a very hard roadbed.
Eventually I rejoined the AT and almost immediately began climbing a wooded mountain. I was the second to arrive at the shelter. Honey Bear was there already. I’ve met him and he’s not one of my favorite characters. He wears a hiking kilt and enjoys painting his face. No idea why. But he had a coat stolen from the Kincora hostel and has a reputation for not paying for services along the trail. Also, he’s been traveling with Finn (see previous incident with Cambodia). Finn hiked out the previous evening, ditching all his hiking partners.

Honey Bear gives skirts a bad name.
Honey Bear gives skirts a bad name.

Honey Bear had a fire going and this was his main focus for the evening. Shortly others arrived: Dallas, Red Leg, Blue Jay, Red Beard & Snorlax (who avoided the shelter to stay away from Honey Bear), Johnny Sleeper (and his daughter and son in law) and Raffiki (his brother Walking Stick went home today).
Honey Bear just kept building a bigger and bigger fire. Several of us mentioned that it was too large and to please stop. When the wind picked up it was downright dangerous with sparks traveling to the dry leaves. Several of the men pointedly asked him to stop. So he waited until everyone went to their sleeping bags and he piled the rest of the logs onto the fire before going to bed himself. Everyone in the shelter got up and poured water on the fire (water we had filtered to use in the morning) to put it out. Someone else got his food bag (which he’d left in the shelter while everyone else hung theirs) and simply carried it to the woods and threw it in.

A new fringed flower.
A new fringed flower.

Friday April 25, Lost Mountain Shelter 483.2 to VA 600, Elk Garden 491.1
Everyone except Honey Bear was up early. No idea if he found his food bag or not. No one told him what we’d done with it, but we’d asked him repeatedly to hang it away from the shelter. It is for everyone’s safety. I will say we made a LOT of noise to make it as difficult as possible foe him to sleep. Hope I never run into him again.
The rain started even before I had water heated for coffee. No one had cell service, but the last report had said the rain would be light and only last until noon. Clearly, forecasts change.
T

Blue Jay and Dallas take a break...not nearly as many breaks as I'd like!
Blue Jay and Dallas take a break…not nearly as many breaks as I’d like!

oday was a climb of Virginia’ highest mountain, Mt Rogers, 5,400+ feet. Dallas and Blue Jay were not far in front of me when I reached the top of the open bald. They had just reach the tree line when the lightening began. The flash was blinding, though well over my head. The hail came down for 3 minutes. Though the ice was half the size of a marble, I was completely exposed and it stung my hands and face. I cannot run with a pack, but I knew I needed to move as swiftly as possible down the mountain. Just before I got to the (minimal) tree cover I slipped. Without hiking poles it would have been a worse fall. I had no choice but to scramble to my feet and continue down. The pain in my ankle and knee worked themselves out by the bottom of the mountain, but my left hip really hurt.
There was a man at the road with a car who offered to take me into town. Right then I was cold, wet and sore. So I agreed. Tomorrow we will see how I feel.
Trail Hints:

  • Think about the name of places as you hike, particularly if you plan to camp there Whistling Gap will be windy. If it’s a hot August night when you’re fighting mosquitoes, that might be a good thing bin March it probably isn’t.
  • Trail romances are difficult enough, but if the hiker goes by the name of Lone Wolf, don’t take that as a challenge. He’s not looking for a relationship.
  • If you carry an electronic device in your pocket while hiking, put its face toward your body to protect it in fall.
The ground was covered in Spring a Beauties most of today. And in the bald I saw tiny Bluets.
The ground was covered in Spring a Beauties most of today. And in the bald I saw tiny Bluets.
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Beth

I'm a professional vagabond. I quit my cubical job in January 2014. Since then, I've hiked the Appalachian Trail, The Camino, and taught English in Vietnam, Turkey, Russia, Spain, Mexico and Peru. I'm exploring the world and you can come too!

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